Foley on Microsoft

The Post 'Post-PC' Era Has Begun

Microsoft's critics used the "Post PC" term to signal the impending demise of the Windows PC. Now Microsoft and the PC makers are poised to upend the Windows PC market. Microsoft and OEMs are doing what they utterly failed to pull off with Windows 8. Finally they're in hardware-software lockstep, pushing to move beyond the traditional PC concept with the crop of new Windows 10 devices that will be on shelves this holiday season.

I'm not simply referring to newish form factors like 2-in-1s, which have been available for several years, but rather devices that blur the lines between phones and PCs or ones that have features tuned for specific productivity tasks. Given its vested interest in trying to grow the Windows market, Microsoft is leading the charge on creating these expanded categories.

By adding the ability to connect a phone to a dock that gives users full keyboard, mouse and large-screen monitor support via the Continuum feature in Windows 10, Microsoft is going beyond the traditional definition of phones/phablets/PCs. The new Microsoft Surface Book also moves beyond the typical hybrid device. While it could be described as a 2-in-1, what makes it novel is that Microsoft has christened the removable tablet component of this machine as the "Clipboard" because it's counting on it being used the same way a traditional clipboard can be -- as a note-taking/drafting/designing-type surface more than as a tablet for watching movies. Microsoft calls the Surface Book "the ultimate laptop" but the way the company has designed the software to support GPU-intensive tasks and also more lightweight computing, interchangeably makes the Surface Book something that's post-PC.

A number of Microsoft PC partners and competitors are introducing new devices that look like the Microsoft Surface tablet line, with keyboards, pens (or pencils) and kickstands, though most have at least one design element or feature that sets them apart.

It should come as little surprise that Microsoft isn't accusing any of these vendors of copying the Surface. Microsoft believes the more the merrier. In fact, Microsoft officials have been working closely with PC makers on making sure these new form factors take advantage of new features in Windows 10, such as the Hello authentication and improved trackpad technology. Microsoft officials have been headlining the launch events throughout the fall for its PC partners' Windows 10 device launch events, and have been featuring these devices prominently in Microsoft's own online and brick-and-mortar stores. In turn, I haven't heard the same kind of OEM grumblings about Microsoft making its own hardware, unlike the case when the company introduced the original Surface devices.

One of the underlying reasons Microsoft originally introduced the Surface was a not-so-subtle effort to push OEMs to do better. The majority of Windows PCs, as a whole, had become cheap, crapware-laden devices that no one wanted or loved. Because most consumers and many business users only get new versions of Windows when they get new PCs, Microsoft was in a very bad place. The Post-PC meme gained strength because users wanted and needed something that was better than the kinds of PCs flooding the market at that time.

With the new crop of Windows 10 devices, which come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors, price points and -- most important -- new features and capabilities, users have lots of compelling choices. Because an estimated 600 million PCs in market are between 3 and 4 years old, as Microsoft and its partners are quick to note repeatedly, the potential upgrade opportunity is there. The question is whether any of the new Post-PC devices will be compelling enough to keep Windows users in the fold and bring those who were disenfranchised back.

I, myself, am hoping for a Surface Book in my stocking.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She's the author of "Microsoft 2.0" (John Wiley & Sons, 2008), which examines what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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